An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Castledermot, County Kildare
Roll number: 70670R
Date of inspection: 28 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Lorcáin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The hallmark of whole-school support for History in Coláiste Lorcáin is the opportunity afforded to students to study History in the four curricular programmes provided by the school namely the Junior Certificate Programme (JCP), the Transition Year Programme (TYP), the Leaving Certificate Established (LCE) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). History is an integral component of the school’s JCP and TYP and is therefore, studied by all the students pursuing both programmes. The school’s TYP is an optional programme. The students who elect to join the TYP study a history module as part of their coursework. Senior-cycle students choose their preferred leaving certificate programme from a choice of the LCE and the LCVP. They are provided with the opportunity to continue their study of History as an optional subject choice. Mixed-ability history class groups are the norm.
The three members of the school’s history subject team are all deployed in the teaching of History. The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to school facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support effective coverage of the coursework. The history teachers have their own base classrooms which facilitates their exploration of a wide variety of teaching and learning methodologies including the display of history materials. The range of teaching aids that the history teachers have at their disposal includes audio-visual equipment, information and communication technology (ICT), photocopiers, a school library and access to the school’s two computer rooms. Management also appreciates the importance of field trips in enriching the students’ study of History and facilitates teachers who organise these activities.
The school has a formally established history department. Management supports the collaborative work of the history department in maintaining the continuous development of History throughout the school. An annual budget is allocated to the department. The importance of in-service training is recognised and attendance at the in-service courses for the new leaving certificate history syllabus is accommodated. The regular meetings of the history subject team are an important means of maintaining the continuous development of History throughout the school and in order to support such good work it is recommended that management discuss with the history subject team the merits of formally scheduling one meeting of the history department per term in the calendar of the school year.
A study of the time allocation to History shows that every junior-cycle class group has two periods per week. The TY students comprise two class groups in the current academic year 2006/2007. The TY history module, which is taught in turn to each class for half the academic year, has been allocated two class periods per week for the duration of the module. The fifth-year history class group and the sixth-year history class group have both five class periods per week. The efforts made by management to ensure a reasonable allocation and distribution of history class periods on the school timetable are acknowledged. It is however, advocated that the allocation of two history class periods per week for each of the junior-cycle class groups be kept under review because it can present challenges to the teachers and their students in completing coverage of the coursework. The avoidance of a long interval in teacher-class contact time between the last history class in the week and the first history class of the following week is encouraged. This undesirable pattern occurred in the case of junior-cycle classes 081C and 082B.
Efforts are made to ensure that the teachers assigned to first-year classes continue with their students until the students sit their Junior Certificate examinations. This practice is commended as it enables teachers to bond with their students, acquire knowledge about their learning and maintain continuity in the delivery of the coursework. The school also mentors higher diploma students and is supportive of their induction into the teaching profession. In keeping with best practice the higher diploma students, who are involved in teaching History, are assigned to a master subject teacher. This person is usually the history teacher whose class is to be taught by the higher diploma student. It is recommended that the teaching of third-year history examination classes be excluded from this arrangement in the best interests of all concerned.
The history teachers share a commitment to ensuring good quality teaching and learning in their classrooms. The delivery of the lessons observed was carefully planned and prepared. The teachers’ lesson plans provided the teachers with an informed overview of the lessons enabling them to guide the pace and structure of the lessons in ways that steadily helped to consolidate student learning. The lesson plans detailed the aims and objectives of the lessons and the methodologies and resources that were to be incorporated into them. The advanced readiness of the lessons involved the preparation of printed handouts, the selection of DVD clips, the review of selected pages in the class textbooks and the selection of written assignments including homework.
The collaborative action of the history teachers in formally establishing a history department and appointing a subject coordinator is commended. The formal history department has a very real role to play in promoting the continuous development of the teaching and study of History throughout the school. The department is a structured means of enabling the history teachers to meet together to pool skills, develop long and short-term strategies, and discuss issues impinging on History. It is suggested that the position of coordinator should be rotated at agreed intervals to enable each member of the history subject team to engage with the work of the department. The regularity with which meetings of the history department are convened is lauded and in order to support this praiseworthy practice it is recommended that one formal meeting per term remain an established practice. The teachers’ good use of their budgetary allocation to augment steadily their bank of communal teaching resources and the stock of history books in the school library is also commended.
The documentation of the Subject Department Plan is a progressive and worthwhile initiative. This document is in effect a framework policy document that gives shape and focus to the important work that takes place in the classroom. The continued development of the Subject Department Plan is encouraged because proactive planning is always best viewed as work in progress rather than a finished product. The Subject Department Plan would be strengthened by documenting the responsibilities of the subject coordinator and the mentoring supports provided for higher diploma students in History and, by including details of proven strategies and recommended resources for teaching the various topics in the year plans that have been prepared for each year group. At present the year plans mainly focus on the sequence and timeline in which the coursework topics will be studied. The inclusion in the year plans of recommended classroom methodologies and suitable resources alongside the various coursework topics would enable this planning resource to draw on the experience of the teachers to a greater degree.
The TY history module provides the students with the opportunity to acquire an increased understanding of Irish politics and the United States with particular emphasis on the life of Martin Luther King. The students are also required to undertake the study of a subject of personal interest such as a local history study or a famous woman in History and submit a project on the subject chosen. The history module involves the students in the study of a variety of primary and secondary sources and a range of activities that help to consolidate their knowledge of the coursework topics. The TY history module is commended for the valuable contribution that it makes in helping to develop students’ interest in History and maintaining the contact which the TY students have with History following completion of their JCP. It is advocated that the emphasis on active methodologies continue to be developed. Suggested means of doing this include the increased use of guest speakers to speak to the TY history students on related areas of their coursework, the documentation of a tourist trail in the students’ study of local history and the scheduling of some lessons for research purposes in one of the school’s computer rooms.
Purposeful teaching of the lesson topics was observed and student learning was encouraged at all times. Classroom management was uniformly good. The pace and structure of the lessons reflected the preparations undertaken by the teachers. Each lesson focused on a definite topic and a variety of teaching strategies were incorporated into the teaching and study of the lesson material. The students were attentive and responsive to their teachers. The display of students’ projects and history materials in the teachers’ classrooms is commended. This practice helps to affirm students publicly for their work and visually stimulate students’ interest in History.
The students were informed of the lesson topic at the outset or at a predetermined time during the initial phase of the lesson. Individual teachers also wrote the lesson topic on the board. This practice is encouraged as it helps to create strong awareness of the purpose of the lesson and provides a clear focus for the work that ensues. The teachers used a variety of strategies effectively in introducing their students to the new lesson material at the outset of the lessons. For example, the provision of information by the teachers, the addressing of questions globally to the class and to named individuals, and the recording of key points on the classroom board steadily increased the students’ knowledge of the new lesson topic. The correction of homework which was undertaken at the commencement of some classes also helped to established linkage with material previously studied.
Good use was made of resources to increase students’ knowledge of the lesson topics and to consolidate their learning. The selected DVD clips provided the students with a strong visual and informed understanding of topics such as the standard of living enjoyed by the Ancien Regime in the splendour of Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution and the impact of the Nuremberg Rallies on the followers of Adolf Hitler as captured in the Leni Riefenstahl film, Triumph of the Will. A classroom display of models of megalithic tombs was used in another instance to impact on student learning and the allocation of time for the students who made them to speak to the class about the tombs is commended. Directed reading and the study of pictorial illustrations from the students’ textbooks were incorporated into the planned structure of a number of lessons. Prepared handouts were also sometimes used in this way.
The classroom board was used effectively throughout the lessons to note key points of information and to expand on their meaning. The information was displayed in a neat and orderly manner. During the lessons the teachers frequently interacted with their students by posing questions and clarifying points. The questioning techniques of the teachers included the use of closed questions to prompt factual recall and open questions that challenged students to articulate an informed opinion. The reading of prepared handouts and selected passages in the class textbook was also enriched by the teachers’ questioning techniques and a number of key points that emerged were recorded on the board.
The setting of written assignments was incorporated into the planned structure of all the lessons observed. Prepared handouts were distributed for this purpose. The teachers familiarised their students with the content of the handout and ensured that they clearly understood the nature of the task. The handouts had a variety of different formats that were appropriate for the intended purpose such as the study of historical documents, the recording of information from a DVD clip, the consolidation of key words and the study of political cartoons relating to the topic studied. The class-based assignments were another effective means of enabling the students to engage actively in their lesson and consolidate their knowledge of the new lesson material.
The setting of homework occurred in the final part of the lessons. The students’ copies perused during the course of the inspection indicated the importance attached to it. The teachers’ practice of including a written feedback comment on their students’ assignments is lauded. It is an important means of helping students to receive constructive feedback on their work.
Assessment and evaluation of students’ progress are important aspects of classroom teaching and of the educational policies of the school. The oral questioning of students was a feature of all the lessons observed. The students’ responses enabled the teachers to gauge the students’ knowledge and understanding of the lesson material. Class assignments and homework also help the history teachers to monitor their students’ progress. The setting and correction of homework is part of each teacher’s classroom practice. Class tests are another means used to track and evaluate student progress.
Formal school examinations are organised for the first, second and fifth-year students before the Christmas and summer holidays commence. The first and second-year students sit a common history examination within their respective year groups. This collaborative practice is commended as it helps to provide a more informed judgement of the students’ progress relative to their year group. A credit system whereby the TY students are awarded credits by their teachers at the end of the first term and at end of the academic year is used to monitor their progress. The third and sixth-year students sit trial certificate examinations during the spring term as part of their preparations for the state examinations in June. School reports are sent to the homes of the students following each of the school’s formal assessments. A parent-teacher meeting is organised annually for each year group to keep parents/guardians informed of progress. In addition, all senior-cycle students are assessed on a monthly basis.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support for History is indicated by the accessibility of History to the students in the curricular programmes provided by the school.
· The provision of teaching resources and the accessibility to school facilities that are available to the history teachers and their students support effective coverage of the coursework.
· The timetabled allocation of history class periods reflects the efforts made to ensure a helpful distribution of classes and a favourable pattern of teacher-class time. It is however, advocated that the allocation of two history class periods per week for each of the junior-cycle class groups be kept under review because it can present challenges to the teachers and their students in completing coverage of the coursework.
· Purposeful teaching of the lesson topics was observed and student learning was encouraged at all times. Each lesson had a definite focus and was underpinned by prior planning and preparation. The teachers effectively employed a variety of teaching strategies and learning activities during the lessons.
· Assessment and monitoring of student progress are actively pursued.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that one formal meeting of the history department per term remain an established practice.
· The continued development of the Subject Department Plan is encouraged.
· It is suggested that the position of history coordinator be rotated at agreed intervals to enable each member of the history subject team to engage with the work of the department.
· It is recommended that the arrangements in place to mentor higher diploma students exclude the assigning of third-year history examination classes to the students.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.